Why it’s time to embrace the friendly battle for the MotoGP title in 2022

Since the 2017 season, no battle for the MotoGP title has been completed. In an exciting year, Andrea Dovizioso bravely kept his and Ducati’s away hopes alive against Marc Marquez until the final round in Valencia. In the end, Marquez prevailed, and in 2018 and 2019 the Honda rider dominated.

The COVID-delayed 2020 season has remained close for much of its shortened 14-round schedule. But repeated errors from Fabio Quartararo and consistency from Suzuki’s Joan Mir allowed the latter to win with one round to spare. And last year Quartararo wrapped up its first championship with two races to go.

We now have three drivers – Quartararo, Francesco Bagnaia and Aleix Espargaro – separated by just 17 points in this weekend’s Japanese Grand Prix. With just five races to go, there has been no hint yet that it won’t continue until the curtain goes up in Valencia on November 6.

World championship motorcycle racing is having a solid year in 2022. Three completely different challengers on three different bikes are battling for supremacy in MotoGP and World Superbikes.

While Superbikes arguably enjoyed the more explosive fights on the track, and so his title chase became much more heated (right now Ducati’s Alvaro Bautista thinks Kawasaki’s six-time world champion Jonathan Rea deserved a lot more). disqualified for intentionally crashing it at Magny-Cours), MotoGP is far from boring – no matter what some people like to believe.

But what is happening in WSBK has led to discussions of how the sporting drama in this title battle is hurting the MotoGP championship race.

Maybe. Much of MotoGP’s popularity over the past two decades has been built around its intense rivalries – largely centered on those Valentino Rossi didn’t like, or vice versa. Rossi vs. Lorenzo vs. Stoner vs. Pedrosa vs. Marquez was a golden era that produced some absolutely sensational battles.

And there’s an argument to be made that two people who dislike each other and are driven by an ego-driven desire to prove they’re the better driver lead to great racing on the track. But it also leaves the door open to hostility.

The Rossi and Marquez rivalry exploded in 2015 when the pair went head-to-head at Sepang

Photo by: Gold and Goose/Motorsport Images

MotoGP’s epic 2015 season was marred by the fallout from the Sepang clash between Marc Marquez and Rossi. Rossi’s back-of-the-grid penalty was seen as Dorna giving a Spanish driver Lorenzo a cheat code for the title – and Rossi says to this day he will never forgive Marquez for ostensibly costing him the championship this that year.

The fan backlash was toxic. At Mugello in 2016, Marquez and Lorenzo had to be followed by security staff for fear Rossi fans would incite violence against them. Stories of non-Rossi fans receiving abuse and threats permeated this era – and even today, the anti-Marquez squad gloats over its woes.

The effects of bitter rivalries are most prevalent in Formula 1 at the moment. After the controversies of the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and the way it tipped the title balance in favor of Max Verstappen, F1 has descended into a hateful and toxic environment.

Williams driver Nicholas Latifi has opened up about the mental death threats he received over the winter as bewildered Lewis Hamilton fans believed his crash sparked the safety car drama that had decided that the title justified such abuses. At Silverstone, British crowds boo Verstappen while the same behavior occurs in the Dutchman’s strongholds – with numerous reports of assaults and other forms of abuse by Verstappen fans too often overshadowing races in 2022 .

When Autosport published a story from Formula 3 champion Victor Martins saying the events in Abu Dhabi had crossed his mind while waiting in the pit lane after a red flag at Monza to figure out the fate of the championship, it led to bizarre comments that 2021 had “traumatized” young drivers.

To use a phrase from television when events become ridiculous: the shark has indeed jumped.

F1 has seen its own title fight intensity explode between Verstappen and Hamilton in 2021

F1 has seen its own title fight intensity explode between Verstappen and Hamilton in 2021

Photo by: Jerry André / Motorsport Images

Undoubtedly, a needle between the MotoGP championship trio would create extra spice – which, as a journalist, is good for headlines. But ultimately, our job is to reveal the stories of a season. And in Quartararo, Bagnaia, and Espargaro, you have three distinct story arcs that make their quests for the championship gripping.

In Quartararo you have the defending champion outshining a bike that just isn’t good enough to top the leaderboard right now. The Frenchman has no support from his fellow Yamaha riders, but still picked up three wins and secured crucial podiums he was to contend for at Mugello and the Red Bull Ring. But a dramatic crash by Aragon saw their points lead shrink from 30 to 10.

In Bagnaia you have a rider trying to achieve something that Ducati hasn’t achieved in 15 years. And he does so after being 91 points behind after a fourth DNF of the campaign from the German GP in June. But six wins in total – including four between Assen and Aragon – mean they are just 10 behind. Not only does Bagnaia have the expectations of Ducati, but as a member of the VR46 Academy he is considered an heir to Rossi, a nine-time Grand Prix world champion.

And at Espargaro you have the 32-year-old who has spent much of his time in MotoGP on bikes not capable of much. Aprilia was seen as the jokes of the paddock for much of its return to the series in 2015 before a major bike overhaul in 2021 began to highlight just how good Espargaro’s work was – something ‘one who was publicly fired by Lorenzo in an online spat last year – was doing. And he remained in contention for the championship throughout 2022.

The three riders remained cordial throughout the season. When Quartararo slammed into Espargaro in Assen, the pair hugged in the Aprilia garage after the race and Espargaro noted how the Yamaha rider is still his son’s hero.

At the end of testing in Barcelona earlier this year, Espargaro prepared for a test start by engaging the various devices of his Aprilia. Quartararo and Bagnaia both reached for his bike to jokingly press buttons and push him away. Consider the storm caused by Hamilton shoving its way past Sergio Perez’s Red Bull at the same circuit and you begin to realize the madness that this constant state of high alert among fans is causing bitter rivalry.

Quartararo and Espargaro clashed in Assen but remained friends in battle

Quartararo and Espargaro clashed in Assen but remained friends in battle

Photo by: Gold and Goose/Motorsport Images

“I said several times, Fabio is a nice guy, and several times from outside us from the press, it seems that you don’t like that we are fighting for the world championship and that we have a good relationship,” Espargaro said after the pair’s clash in Assen. “And I don’t really understand that. We have already faced each other once in Assen, and I am sure that we will face each other again in the next races. The race is the race. If we know how far we can go to respect each other, that’s the race. We both want to win, but Fabio is a very nice guy. He lives near my house and always when he passes by my house he stops, and I hope he can continue to stop for the next few years to say hello. But what happens on the right track stays on the right track.

Friendly and good-natured rivalries have their place in sports as much as bitter rivalries. And, with just a slight change in approach, it’s very easy to market.

Ever since the COVID pandemic forced the world to reevaluate its priorities and what really mattered in life, there’s been a shift in what resonates now. This has only been exacerbated by the far-reaching effects the war in Ukraine has had on the population, as a cost of living crisis weighs heavily on people.

Over the past three years, the importance of sport as an escape has been amplified – in a number of cases, the return of sport has been used as a key tool to encourage people to respect the rules of confinement during the worst period of the pandemic.

So rich people doing things they get paid millions for, and bickering about it, just seems out of place in the modern world. In the end, whatever happened in Abu Dhabi last year would have done little to completely change Verstappen’s or Hamilton’s life. They both returned home to far more comfortable lifestyles than most of us will ever experience.

And that is true of everything that happens in the race for the MotoGP title. Yes, for athletes there are their own personal sacrifices that drive their accomplishments. But Mir’s feelings when he won his MotoGP title in 2020 should always be considered: “Here for sure we have pressure. We are playing with our lives and for sure we have to be really focused on what we need to do but that’s our I think what’s the real pressure, which luckily I don’t have… I have good pressure, because if this year I win [it] will be super good for me, but if I don’t win, it will be just as good.

Will the competitive pressure increase on the title contenders in the final five rounds?

Will the competitive pressure increase on the title contenders in the final five rounds?

Photo by: Gold and Goose/Motorsport Images

“But people who can’t pay their rent because of coronavirus and all that, those kind of people who can’t bring food home, that’s the real pressure. When I hear questions about the pressure , I think about it and I say: “I have no pressure, this is my job, I will be super good anyway. I am privileged.”

There will still be controversies that could stem from the 2022 title battle. If Bagnaia wins, his drunk driving incident and apparent lack of punishment for it, as well as his bizarre Dennis Rodman tribute helmet – a convicted aggressor and ardent supporter of Kim Jong Un – at Misano will have to be spoken of and will shape his own championship legacy.

The tough rivalries up the ante, and thus create absolutely fantastic drama for a series to spark interest.

But we should also start learning to embrace a title battle that involves fighters who actually love and respect each other and don’t hide that fact. This makes them more human, and therefore much easier to understand.

Comments are closed.